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12: Introduction to family history, WEA Centre Adelaide 8:00 to 9:30pm over 7 weeks
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23: Coming to grips with the new FamilySearch, WEA Centre Adelaide 10:00 to 1:00pm
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Crossing barriers to Welsh research
England effectively swallowed Wales as far as central government was concerned by the reign of Henry VIII under the Acts of Union passed between 1536 and 1543. They owe their origin to Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his need to take control from the Roman Catholic Marcher Lords. [A Marcher Lord was a powerful and trusted noble appointed by the King of England to guard the border (known as the Welsh Marches) between England and Wales.] Edward I had conquered Wales by 1283 and the long process of assimilation owes its origins to this event. In 1485, the Welsh Henry Tudor, Henry VIII's father, defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. On a local level the Welsh tended to carry on as normal and it took many generations for the people to become English and this can affect progress in researching one's ancestry.
Since much of this happened before the introduction of parish registers and the like, by in large Welsh records that most researchers will use are largely English in their format. However, there are a few Welsh issues to address!
Crossing barriers to Welsh research
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Probably the first problem that comes to mind is language. The Welsh language belongs to the Brythonic branch of Celtic languages along with Breton and Cornish and is amongst the oldest of the surviving European languages. It was the language of England prior to the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century. In fact it may not be a significant problem simply because for much of the time it was not the official language! The Established Church records were kept in Latin until 1733 and then English although the occasional Welsh word/s can be found. However, nonconformists kept records in Welsh. The parish register of Penrhosllugwy in Anglesea (pictured), is one of the earliest surviving registers in the diocese of Bangor. This register is also one of the few parish registers which contains Welsh being written in Welsh from 1578 to 1679.
A much greater problem in fact is in Protestant nonconformity itself!
A nonconformist is a member of a religious body other than the Established Church. In Wales nonconformist churches from late eighteenth century were popular due to a number of factors:
• The ecumenical nature of many nonconformists.
• The enthusiasm of many nonconformist preachers.
• Greater opportunities for congregational participation on all levels.
These were all factors that seemed to appeal to the Welsh character. Moreover the Established Church failed to keep up with population growth leaving openings for new denominations to plug the gaps.
The problem for the researcher is the lack of organisation and record keeping by the nonconformist fraternity. As a rule of thumb it would seem that the more evangelical the religious denomination the less likely any rigour in record keeping will be evident! Added to this we have no significant nonconformist church archives and often a failure to deposit records in any other collection adding to the problem.
Fortunately although Wales is now a predominantly nonconformist country, until well into the 19th century only a minority of the population owed allegiance to any dissenting body. Even if a family withdrew from the Established Church and joined a nonconformist congregation, it did not necessarily break all connection with the parish church. Nonconformist chapels, particularly in rural areas, were not always licensed for marriages, and often had no burial grounds.
The records of the Established Church are predominantly in The National Library of Wales although some may be found in County Record Offices. For full details on these records check out The National Library of Wales. In the 1930s, the National Library of Wales sought out surviving records, and the results were published in: Parish Registers and Civil Records of the Parishes of the Welsh Diocese Included in the Returns Relating to Ecclesiastical Records in the Parishes of the Diocese of: Swansea and Brecon; St David’s; St Asap; Bangor; Llandaff; Monmouth. The FamilySearch library holds copies of this material on films that can be ordered to view at your local FamilySearch outlet. They include:
• Swansea and Brecon (film 104175)
• St David (film 104176)
• St Asap (film 104177)
• Bangor (film 104177)
• Llandaff (film 104178)
• Monmouth (film 104178)
This information is organised by diocese and then alphabetically by parish. The Diocese of Monmouth is actually centred on Newport and, until 1921 when the Church in Wales was separated from the Church of England, was the Archdeaconry of Monmouth within the Diocese of Llandaff. In 1923 the Diocese of Brecon and Swansea was created from the Archdeaconry of Brecon in the Diocese of St David.
The online Historical Records Collection
(the purged IGI at FamilySearch) also contains a few records of births/baptisms (over 750,000) and marriages (40,000) and should not be ignored.
A possible greater barrier to progressing Welsh ancestry lies
in the patronymic naming system widely employed in the country. In fact the problem specifically relates not only to an absence of a hereditary surname making the pursuit of forebears virtually impossible unless good records can be located, but to the transition to the English form of hereditary surnames.
Patronymics describes the process of giving a child the father's given name as a surname. This means that a family's name changes every generation. In the Welsh system it is mainly the male line and anciently used the 'ap' or 'ab' prefix ('ap' is a contraction of the Welsh word 'mab', which means son). For example, Rhys ap Dafydd translates as 'Rhys, son of David'. Modern Welsh surnames such as Powell (from ap Howell), Prichard ap Richard), Price (ap Rhys), Bevan (ab Evan) and so on are the result of this contraction coupled with a progressive tendency to Anglicise Welsh names.
The first of these issues
precludes easily locating ancestors simply because their name is unknown. For example, we know the father of Rhys ap Dafydd was Dafydd but what was his second name, the name of his father?
The second issue has to be the transition process used by the family. Surnames were not widely used until the Tudor period and then it was transitional from the wealthy classes down. The sixteenth century was a time of great change in naming practices for Wales. Legally, people were supposed to be using fixed surnames but perusal of documents of the time suggests otherwise. Entries from EA Lewis; Early Chancery proceedings concerning Wales demonstrates the range you can expect to find in contemporary documents as the transition progressed through societal ranks.
Firstly the inheritance of English-style surnames is demonstrated in 1601 by the entry—Mary Penry the d. of Wm. Penry—and at the same time the use of true patronyms in some format or other again in 1601 is apparent in the entry—Mary Myrick ye d. of Myrick Evan. It is relatively easy to locate different usages for what appears to be the same person in different records such as in 1607—Elizabeth ver Owen filia Owini Plethine—and in 1608—Elizabeth Plethine filia Owini Plethin.
Married women retained their maiden names but the influence of the English meant that by the sixteenth century you can also find examples of women doing any of the following:
• keeping their father's anglicised hereditary surname.
• using a patronym incorporating her father's given name.
• taking her husband's surname as in England.
• using a personal nickname.
There are other problems the researcher faces with transition from the Welsh to the English form. Not only was there no timetable for names to change but there was no obligation to retain the change made. There are examples of the English format being discarded after a few generations. Any of the following examples could have been adopted at the time of transition. Look at the choices available to a man named Rhys ap Owein ab Maredudd ab Hywel ab Dafydd. He could have retained his Welsh format or adopted any of the following:
1. The name strings could be shortened to two generations, ab, ap, verch were dropped and the second name was treated as a surname. Thus Rhys ab Owein when anglicised became Rhys or Reece OWEN.
Understanding the transition process is not going to help you break through the barrier thrown up at the time of transition. Those with remote rural ancestors will hit the barrier quite recently whereas those from the towns, borders and/or under English influence will find that their ancestors adopted the English format early. There are quite modern examples in the 19th century Censuses:
2. Three generations could have been selected. Thus Rhys Owein Maredudd becomes Rhys or Reece Owen MEREDITH.
3. Name strings were shortened as above but another name from the string could be selected as the surname and thus Rhys Dafydd or Reece DAVID and so on.
4. Vestiges of the link word could have been retained and attached to the new surname and the first example above would have resulted in
Rhys or Reece BOWEN.
5. The bardic name (if our man had one) could have been selected. By long established custom, poets and sometimes writers of prose as well, have adopted or have had conferred upon them bardic names or pseudonyms under which their works may be published, and which may be the most widely known name associated with the individual.
6. A completely new non-related English surname could be selected.
1. The children of Robert WILLIAMS of Llanbedrog bore the final name of ROBERTS in the 1841 census but WILLIAMS in the 1851 census.
Regardless, once the researcher arrives at this point in their ancestry they will, more likely than not, be unable to progress.
2. In the 1851 census, Ellis WILLIAMS of Llanfihangel Bachellaeth had five children with the final name of ELLIS.
A final word of caution—from 1 January 1813 the Established Church used standard printed baptism registers with a column for the parents' surname. When the IGI was started in 1968, the LDS decided that all baptisms in Wales before 1 January 1813 would be entered with the father's given name as the child's surname in their surname index but for the early period covered by the IGI many Welsh people had not adopted English-style surnames and were following the Welsh naming pattern. However the above cut-off date was applied to IGI entries irrespective of whether the parents were actually following the Welsh patronymic system or had adopted fixed English-style surnames. This problem has been inherited by the Historical Records Collection.
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